Put a Big Apple in The Cooler
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

It's all about New York at The Cooler today.

Isn't it always?

Jon Bon Jovi
The NFL kicked off its 2002 season with the glitz of Jon Bon Jovi in Times Square.
In New York, the Sparkletts, like the tap water, come in two flavors -- plain and chunky. In New York, any proud Cooler dweller doesn't stop bar-hopping until he toasts the sun. In New York, every night out is long and exacting and costly and awesome and ... well, let's be honest: For every night out I've spent in New York, I've subtracted a year from my life.

Or, as Mick Jagger sang in "Shattered": "To live in this town, you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough!"

(Side note: Driving the streets of San Francisco the other day, radio on, I was reminded that Stones' tunes begin and end with the underrated greatness of "Gimme Shelter." Listen to it again. Tell yourself that the first 60 seconds of "Gimme Shelter" should not open every major sporting event you've ever attended -- especially the 60 seconds before an NBA Finals game, or a baseball playoff game. End of side note.)

So anyway, about New York and why it's hosting The Cooler today:

Forget the fact that last Thursday, the NFL opened its season with Bon Jovi at Times Square. That's so NFL. So loud. So glitzy. So passé. From my hotel room in Times Square that day -- on assignment for that Niners-Giants tilt -- I could see the giant Panasonic screen hovering over the square. All day, it featured the NFL logo, twirling on the screen. The only thing missing was George Orwell, handing out leaflets on the street corner for $10 off the DirecTV NFL package.

No, dweller. Shun that artificial hype.

Instead, take from this weekend of sports a slice from Saturday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens. While most of America was hunkering down for an NFL kickoff and all that it entails -- including the sight of Jillian Barberie in a sweater so tight it makes Lana Turner look like a bag lady -- the U.S. Open final was rolling out the best little pre-match ceremony I think I might have ever seen.

It's as simple as this:

Boys Choir of Harlem sings "America the Beautiful."

Aretha Franklin
... while tennis kept things simple with Aretha Franklin and the Boys Choir of Harlem.
Upon closure of their pitch-perfect, achingly emotional rendition, Aretha Franklin enters with four backup singers.

She sings "My Country Tis of Thee" with such soul and honey, you could spread it on toast.

The Boys Choir of Harlem joins in, halfway. They're perfect.

End of ceremony.

Let Serena and Venus begin.

Let us count the things that were missing: Fireworks. Military flyovers. Kathie Lee Gifford. KISS. A six-hour pregame show. A clock on the bottom of our TV screen, counting down the hours and minutes before the match begins.

What's wrong with this picture?

Uh, nothing?


I wouldn't expect Tags the Wax Commissioner to get the message. I'm sure next year's NFL opener will feature Gerardo singing "Rico Suave" at South Beach for a Broncos-Dolphins lid-lifter. Or, if they can hash out obvious scheduling issues, Billy Ray Cyrus kicking off a Texans-Jaguars battle.

Come on, NFL. Learn your lesson.

With that, our Weekend List of Five from, quite frankly, a sports weekend so righteous it's bucking for a place in The Cooler's annual roster of holiday weekends:

1. Pete and Andre
Brigette Wilson Sampras, Pete Sampras
Brigette and Pete will make room for another trophy in the Sampras household.
This is beyond cool. Sampras and Agassi, busting their way through a field of twentysomethings who have stronger legs, deeper lungs and bodies that don't need an avalanche of Advil after each match.

Seriously, when have we seen such an epic showdown of legends, excepting the pay-per-view of Dr. J against Kareem? I have to think that Sampras winning a tennis major at his age, after such a victory drought, in his ruthless sport of conditioning and youth, ranks up there with Jack Nicklaus winning the '86 Masters at age 46.

Except he did it against Andre, a development that imbues the victory with such depth, it would be as if Nicklaus won the '86 Masters at age 46 -- with Tom Watson in his final group, head-to-head.

Pete and Andre! Andre and Pete!

Both men have accrued such trophies -- Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the right to wake up next to Bridgette Wilson and Steffi Graf every morning.

Andre Agassi
A rebel no more, Andre Agassi is now a crowd favorite.
Righteous stuff. Perhaps the second-most amazing development is the ocean of affection we've developed for Agassi. Love for Andre? This guy was the little turd from the "Image is Everything" ad that we all hated. Ten years ago, we took one look at his frosted locks, his Vegas lifestyle, his major-free résumé ... and wrote him off as a dude who looked like the third wheel at a record producer's casting call for a Nelson video.

Then, on Saturday, he rallies past Lleyton Hewitt on pure guts, and I'm in the Strat-o-Lounger getting goosebumps! Agassi and goosebumps? Once, that was as unlikely as getting goosebumps from Albert Belle after he hangs moon at a crowd of kids waiting for his autograph.

Then, Pam Shriver from CBS gets him afterward and asks him about the love from the crowd, and My Man Andre smiles and says: "This is New York, baby!" The crowd eats it up. And I'm all shivers.

You can't beat the Longevity Rule. You hang around long enough, we love you. We're easy, this American public. Now, we'll be clamoring for the "Image is Everything" ads on ESPN Classic, wiping away a tear every time.

2. NFL takes
Michael Vick
The Falcons would really soar if they just gave the ball to the high-flying Michael Vick on every play.
Random thoughts from Week 1 of the parity-driven madness: The Raiders and Dolphins played home games on infield dirt! How old-school is that? It's like my buddy Steiny once said of this New Ballpark Craze. Give it 20 years and we'll be nostalgic, saying: "Remember the days when you had your perfect multi-purpose stadium for baseball, football and rock concerts?'' .... Michael Vick is the Black Jesus. Dan Reeves should hand out game plans every week that are, like, 100 pages long, and on each page it should simply read: "QUARTERBACK DRAW, EVERY PLAY" ... Wait, you mean we endured a whole summer of Dave Campo's Coach Cliché Tour de Force so they could lose to the Houston Texans? Man, I'm calling HBO in the morning and asking for a refund for August's cable fees. Do you think they would have won if they didn't cut the dude who karaoked with Chad Hutchinson? He could have sung, like, "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" or "Eye of the Tiger" at halftime, avec Hutchinson's acoustic work, to inspire.

Something to ponder.

3. Back to the U.S. Open
Name a sport that produces better celebrity sightings. CBS cameras caught Faye Dunaway and Guillermo Villas chatting it up. Faye Dunaway and Guillermo Villas! What could they have been talking about? That night in '75 they bumped into each other at Studio 54 while Chrissy Evert made out with Bjorn Borg behind Jimmy Connors' back? The mind reels.

Venus & Serena Williams
Women's tennis would get a lot more interesting if the Williams sisters developed a dislike for each other.
Also, sweet Boris Becker look. He cut the figure of a pimp daddy in those blue-tinted shades. Surprised he didn't ask Shriver to duck into a nearby broom closet after the interview. You go, Boom Boom!

As for Serena and Venus, fair play to the sisters. They rule. Only problem now is, America gets bored with the greatness. Same thing going on with Tiger right now. What women's tennis needs is one of two things:

1) Serena and Venus go all-out, toss aside their Jehova's Witness-inspired peace and take every piece of sibling hatred and Freudian resentment into epic, three-set tiebreakers to give us kick-butt showdowns in every final; or

2) Rich Beem to take up tennis.

We'll settle for Option 1.

4. MVP! MVP!
Speaking of the Longevity Rule, what about Barry Bonds? He breaks the Longevity Rule. Nobody likes Barry Bonds, except Giants fans. So on Sunday, on the most perfect Californian day you ever imagined, I sat at Pac Bell and watched Bonds do the following:

Barry Bonds
Much like the sight of Barry Bonds in the batter's box strikes fear in pitchers ...

  • Homer into the Bay.

  • Field scorchers down the line by Quentin McCracken and Tony Womack and hold them both to singles.

  • Score, sliding, on a sacrifice fly in the eighth to turn a 2-1 game into a 3-1 game.

    Best I can tell, going into Sunday's game, Bonds was hitting .363. Best I can tell, he had 41 bombs. Best I can tell, he had 164 walks. Best I can tell, his on-base percentage was .571.

    Retire the freaking award now. Rename the NL MVP award the Barry (You Never Liked Him, But You Really Have No Choice) Bonds Trophy.

    And to think, once, in the presence of his greatness, I asked a question and he sneered, as if I were a stray dog in his flower bed: "Man, what school did you go to learn to ask stupid questions like that?"

    I love my job.

    5. Final NFL takes
    Some people are picking San Diego to have a great season, and the Chargers rolled 37-6, in their opener at Cincy. Repeat: They played Cincy. ... Nice to see Brian Billick's squad come up short against the most desperate, humiliated team in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers. Hey, big Bri, go shout at a beat writer. Then go pick up Babe Laufenberg off the waiver wire, pal ... Did we mention Michael Vick is the Black Jesus? I'll be sleeping in my Falcons No. 7 gamer from here on out, replacing my former sleepwear, my Falcons No. 11 Bobby Hebert gamer.

    Did the Browns get hosed or what? But hey, rules are rules. I know. When I type a great line into The Cooler, sometimes I get so geeked I whip off my baseball cap in elation. The boys in Bristol, following company rules, dock me 10 percent of my pay.

    Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



    Brian Murphy Archive

    Murphy: Celebrating our youth in the rearview mirror

    Murphy: Cooler moments in sports cinema

    Murphy: Toasting Beem, a sportswriter's dream

    Murphy: Barry owes it all to my burrito

    Murphy: Not ready for some football -- yet

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